Rose Hartwick Thorpe was famous long before she moved to Pacific Beach. In 1867 Rose Hartwick was a 16-year-old schoolgirl in Litchfield, Michigan who from an early age had shown an aptitude for writing poetry. One night, inspired by the story ‘Love and Loyalty’ in Peterson’s Magazine, she had written the narrative poem ‘Bessie and the Curfew’. In the poem, set in England during the English civil war of 1600s, Bessie risked everything by climbing the slimy ladder to the church tower and clinging to the tongue of the bell as it swung to and fro over the city far below to prevent it from sounding curfew, the time set for the execution of her lover Basil Underwood on suspicion of spying for the royalist Cavaliers:
She had listened while the judges read, without a tear or sigh,
‘At the ringing of the curfew, Basil Underwood must die.’
And her breath came fast and faster, and her eyes grew large and bright;
One low murmur, faintly spoken. “Curfew must not ring tonight!’.
When Oliver Cromwell, the Puritan leader, road into town, Bessie knelt at his feet and told her story, showing him her bruised and torn hands, and touched his heart with sudden pity, saving Basil’s life:
“Go! your lover lives,” said Cromwell. “Curfew shall not ring tonight!”.
Rose Hartwick’s poetry had appeared in local newspapers before but when this poem, renamed ‘Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight’, was printed in 1870 it became a sensation and was reprinted by newspapers all over the country and even in published collections. It became one of the most popular poems of the nineteenth century, familiar to almost everyone.
In 1871 Rose Hartwick married Edward Carson (E. C.) Thorpe, a carriage maker, and they soon had a daughter, Lulo. In the early 1880s the Thorpes moved from Michigan to San Antonio, Texas, where they hoped the warmer climate would improve Mr. Thorpe’s health.
Meanwhile, in San Diego, a transcontinental rail line had arrived in 1885 and the city experienced a huge influx of settlers known as the ‘great boom’. The boom also attracted visionaries who saw the potential for San Diego to become a great city and hoped to participate in shaping its future. Harr Wagner was publisher of the Golden Era, a literary journal based in San Francisco. In 1887 Wagner moved the paper to San Diego, where he began a campaign for civic improvements which included the establishment of an institution of higher learning. He founded a college and arranged with the Pacific Beach Company to integrate it into the community they were planning to develop.
Wagner also reached out to Mrs. Thorpe, an occasional contributor to the Golden Era: ‘He wrote me that they wanted me here, that they were starting the college of letters at Pacific Beach’. So the Thorpes moved to San Diego; in September San Diego Union reported that ‘E. C. Thorpe and Rose Hartwick Thorpe, the author of the “Curfew Must Not Ring”, arrived yesterday and will relocate in this city’. Mr. Thorpe joined Wagner as a director and shareholder of the Golden Era Company and Mrs. Thorpe edited a children’s section called ‘Our Homes’ and contributed poetry to the publication.
The Pacific Beach Company began selling lots in December 1887 with the college as one of the subdivision’s primary attractions. A four-block parcel in the center of the community was set aside and in January 1888 the cornerstone of the San Diego College of Letters was laid. When the college opened in September Mrs. Thorpe recalled that both she and her daughter Lulo attended classes. Both also appeared at other college activities; a reception for the college president in October featured a new poem, ‘Margaret’, by Rose Hartwick Thorpe, author of ‘Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight’, read by that gifted lady. At the college’s first commencement the following summer, Miss Lulo Thorpe, daughter of Rose Hartwick Thorpe, the gifted authoress of ‘Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight’, read an able and interesting history of the school year.
E. C. Thorpe joined the real estate boom by becoming a dealer in ‘portable houses’, small wooden structures held together by pins rather than nails or screws. Apparently the Thorpes lived in one themselves; reliving the ‘old days’ for PB’s fiftieth anniversary celebration in 1937 Mrs. Thorpe recalled that ‘We moved our portable cottage to Pacific Beach, and we thus became the very first settlers there’.
However, the great boom came to an end in early 1888. E. C. Thorpe later wrote that the depression that followed in the wake of the boom necessitated the closing of the college in 1890 and many moved away so that by the following year only three or four families remained in the college settlement. One of those that remained was the Barnes family, whose sons Edward and Theodore had also been students at the college. The Thorpes and the Barnes were soon to discover a new source of prosperity in Pacific Beach, lemon cultivation. They also became neighbors, their lemon ranches on opposite sides of Lamont Street, between Diamond and Emerald, the Barnes to the west and the Thorpes to the east. In 1895 Edward Barnes and Lulo Thorpe were married and the couple moved to their own lemon ranch next to his father’s, on Jewell Street.
Rose Hartwick Thorpe was a world-renowned celebrity and always in demand at cultural and artistic events but her husband also became popular as a performer, adopting the character of ‘Hans’ and performing recitations in the broken English of a Dutchman. A favorite was ‘Dot Bacific Peach Flea’ (‘Vot schumps und viggles und bites . . . Und keepen me avake effry nights’). The Thorpes frequently combined their talents for public recitations. In 1890 the ‘popular gifted litterateurs Edward Carson Thorpe and Rose Hartwick Thorpe charmed the hearts of their hearers from first to last. ‘Hans’, as usual, convulsed his audience with laughter. The famed authoress of ‘Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight’ won her audience, as she always does, by rendering her own compositions’.
Rose Hartwick Thorpe also did her part to improve the cultural environment of the community. In 1895 the ladies of Pacific Beach met at her home and formed a reading club, with Mrs. Thorpe as president. For years the club met at members homes (the members were all women) but in 1911 they built their own clubhouse, now the Pacific Beach Womans Club, at 1721 Hornblend Street.
Lemon ranching dominated Pacific Beach for more than a decade after the college collapsed but when residential growth resumed in the late 1890s E. C. Thorpe also became a building contractor. Much of his business was in La Jolla and in 1901 the Thorpes moved into a cottage he had built there, selling the orchard and home in Pacific Beach to their daughter and son-in-law. In 1906 both families moved downtown, the Thorpes to 3rd Avenue in Hillcrest and then to locations in Mission Hills overlooking San Diego Bay and the Barnes to 4th Avenue, across Upas Street from his parents, who had also sold their Pacific Beach ranch and moved to the city. After E. C. Thorpe died in 1916 Mrs. Thorpe moved back to Hillcrest and later joined the Barnes colony at 4th and Upas. Rose Hartwick Thorpe died in 1939 at the age of 89.
After the Thorpes and the Barnes left Pacific Beach their former home at Lamont and Emerald became the parsonage for the Methodist Church and later the home of ‘Mother’ Davis, whose son, Capt. Thomas A. Davis, was the founder and long-time president of San Diego Army and Navy Academy. In 1957 the old house burned to the ground in a spectacular blaze witnessed by many in Pacific Beach (myself included).
Few people today have heard of Rose Hartwick Thorpe or ‘Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight’ but one of her poems may actually have changed the map of San Diego. The shallow lagoon south of Pacific Beach had originally been called False Bay to distinguish it from San Diego Bay, the ‘true’ natural harbor further to the south. Mrs. Thorpe is said to have suggested that ‘Mission Bay’ would be a more fitting name and her poem ‘Mission Bay’ (‘now blue, now gray’) in the August 1888 Golden Era initiated the campaign to rename it. Although the bay was known by both names for years her choice became increasingly popular and False Bay was officially renamed Mission Bay in 1915.